On 5 June 1947, Marshall delivered the famous Harvard University speech on the US commitment to help Europe. This was followed by an intensive intellectual and political work, resulting in the eventual launch of the Marshall Plan in 1948. Ever since that day, 5 June is considered to be the date of launching the most successful US foreign policy initiative. We are nearing the 70th anniversary of this wise step.
As we know from history, the Marshall Plan was a genuine success. Despite Stalin’s resistance and his influence on French and Italian Communists who tried to wreak havoc in their respective countries in 1948, and despite Stalin’s efforts to undermine the West by the blockade of West Berlin, the US and the West managed to resist. Wisely implemented within a period of several years, the Marshall Plan both spurred economic recovery and political stabilisation in Western Europe. Moreover, it also effectively halted Stalin’s ambition of political expansion to the West. More importantly, US pressure towards the integration of European economies, wisely put on Western Europe in general, and on France in particular, finally reached the noble end. In 1951, the idea of a European Coal and Steel Community masterminded by Robert Shumann and Jean Monet became flesh. This was the beginning of the European Union.
My country, Lithuania, was left on the other side of the iron curtain as a result of the latest in a series of our historical tragedies. For 50 years we suffered from Stalin’s occupation, deportations, and Soviet oppression. This was not our choice. We were unable to use the opportunities provided under the Marshall Plan. Anyway, in 1947–1951, the Marshall Plan prevented Stalin from casting an iron curtain over entire Western Europe. The Marshall Plan led to the establishment of the European Union, and NATO was also established alongside. As a result, in the long term, the West won the cold war and in 1990 Lithuania regained its freedom.
All of this owes to G. Marshall and his followers who, together with the entire US political elite, summoned sufficient geopolitical wisdom, unparalleled global responsibility and focused political leadership in order to implement this successful geopolitical initiative, which was started on 5 June 1947. While celebrating its 70th anniversary, we are pleased to commend the outstanding success of the Marshall Plan. Furthermore, we can draw lessons from it and model the ways to address the geopolitical challenges the European continent faces today.
Today, 70 years after the Marshall Plan was announced, the situation in Europe is reminiscent of the events that took place back in 1947. Of course, Western Europe no longer needs a Marshall Plan for economic reconstruction and recovery. However, the Kremlin seeks political dominance again and targets the European regions which have long been either dependent on, or occupied by the Soviet empire and now want to develop on their own, independent from the Kremlin. This is what causes aggressive opposition from Putin’s regime. Most Eastern Partnership countries situated between Russia and the European Union, and the Western Balkans as a whole can be identified as the regions in question. However, special attention needs to be attached to Ukraine.
After the Maidan Revolution in 2014, Ukraine’s ambition was to follow the European path of reform. The Kremlin responded by the violent occupation of Crimea and aggressive war in Eastern Ukraine. The main reasons for this lie in Putin’s fear that Ukraine’s European success story could infect the Russian society and foster its efforts to pursue the same objectives in Russia. This, in turn, would pose a threat to the survival of the Kremlin regime.
Putin’s long-term strategy in Ukraine is simple. It is aimed at weakening the Ukrainian economy and preventing the Ukrainian authorities and the people from focusing on implementation of essential reforms by protracting the smouldering military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. This is all done to prevent Ukraine from becoming a success story. Similarly, to Stalin, who tried to do his utmost to prevent the recovery of Western Europe in 1947–1948, Putin is now interested in a non-recovery of Ukraine.
This is because Putin who destroyed democracy in Russia is well aware of the weak point in any democratic process. Ukraine is a country under economic difficulties, a country where people can’t wait to see miraculous and immediate signs of improvement after the revolution, and a country that needs to wage a war to defend itself against the military aggression of the big neighbour. Under these circumstances, democratic elections are not immune to political forces that are declaring populist ideas to refuse further implementation of the necessary reforms. Their political success would be the biggest strategic victory for Putin. For him, this would be the way to regain political dominance in Ukraine’s political agenda.
Back in Stalin’s time, natural popular frustration resulting from economic difficulties was a powerful political force Stalin tried to exploit through local Communists in Western Europe before the Marshall Plan was launched. Putin is also trying to create and exploit disappointment in Ukraine. He has already achieved this in Moldova, which recently elected an openly pro-Russian president. This was mainly due to the frustration of ordinary Moldovans when they failed to see any improvement in their economy and failure to see any real membership perspective despite to the European integration track announced by Moldova government for several years in a row.
Putin’s strategy in Ukraine is clear. His objectives are obvious. Reaching them is not very difficult. All he needs to do is to wait for Ukrainian’s disappointment.
The legitimate question is whether Western countries have a long-term strategy today to prevent success of Putin’s scenario in Ukraine. Unfortunately, such a wide-ranging and comprehensive strategy on Ukraine does not exist to this day. We are observing Western sanctions against Russia, we are seeing efforts to make Putin implement the Minsk agreements, but we are not seeing any Western strategy on Ukraine that would be similar to the approach taken by George Marshall to Western Europe. Not yet. As of today, we are not seeing a Western strategy which would prevent the recovery of Putin’s political dominance in Ukraine.
Ukraine should matter to the West not only for Ukraine’s sake. Not only because Ukraine renounced its nuclear weapons and received a guarantee of protection of its sovereignty, which the West failed to materialise. Ukraine should also matter for the West as the only possibility to help Russia transform into a European state over time. Because example of Ukrainian success story is the only instrument that the West has in its hands to help Russia. Therefore, by helping Ukraine, the West would essentially address the causes of the latest tectonic conflict on the European continent between undemocratic Russia and continental Europe.
In the long term, through the European Coal and Steel Community and the ensuing establishment of what is now the EU, the 1947 Marshall Plan in Western Europe resolved the tectonic conflict between France and Germany that had previously led to two world wars. The Marshall Plan for Ukraine would help to finally resolve the eternal conflict between Russia and continental Europe. In particular, as the Baltic countries, we are highly interested in this as we have so far been the biggest victims of such conflicts.
Why did Central Europe and the Baltic States not need the Marshal Plan after 1990 to become stories of success? The reason is that the West granted us the EU membership perspective from the very outset. Both the EU and NATO membership perspective were open to us on the condition that we implement the necessary reforms. This was the only reason that attached us to the European path of reform even though natural frustration of the general public meant that new parties came to power after every election. A realistic prospect of not very distant membership in EU has led to the formation of a strong national political consensus on the need to implement the necessary reform. The Western strategy to help us quickly and successfully implement complex European reforms was clear and effective. In addition, at the end of the day, Russia under Yeltsin back then differed a lot from Putin’s Russia today.
The EU’s enlargement policy after the fall of the Berlin Wall resulted in accession of Central European countries and the Baltic States, stabilised the region and helped to create successful European States. This initiative was just as successful as the post-war Marshall Plan for Western Europe. In the post-1945 era, the West has implemented only two successful geopolitical initiatives that prevented the Kremlin from either gaining or recovering its political dominance in territories beyond Russia: the Marshall Plan in 1947 and the enlargement of the EU in 2004.
Thus, when we talk about the Western strategy for Ukraine, the main aim of which is to prevent Putin from the recovery of political dominance in Ukraine, the West may choose between two proven geopolitical strategies, opting either in favour of initiatives similar to the post-war Marshall Plan, or offering an EU accession perspective for Ukraine.
Unfortunately, the European Union currently does not seem to be able to offer Ukraine a membership perspective, even though this is what Lithuania campaigns for. Brexit, refugees, and Ukraine’s large size are among the multiple reasons for that.
The only remaining option, therefore, is to model a Western strategy for Ukraine on the Marshall Plan experience. The Marshall Plan for Ukraine is not a new idea in the Western community after the Maidan Revolution. George Soros and Bernard Henry Levy raised the idea before, and Lithuania has even announced its implementation to be Lithuania’s official policy. Anders Aslund, Washington based expert on Ukrainian affairs, recently calculated that, given a Marshall Plan for Ukraine is implemented, mobilising around 5 billion US dollars of annual investment into the real economy, Ukraine’s annual GDP growth would rise from 2 % to an average of 6–8 %. Similar figures have been recently released by Natalie Jaresko, former Ukrainian Minister of Finance.
In this case, people in Ukraine would finally feel that the reforms are bringing economic growth, new jobs and higher wages. Similarly, to 1947, this would halt public disillusionment and prevent Putin from implementing his strategy in Ukraine.
Like the Marshall Plan for Western Europe, the Marshall Plan for Ukraine should be implemented on the basis of clear conditions for reforms in Ukraine; and the release of funds should be based on the conditionality principle. Following the example of the post-war Marshall Plan, a dedicated agency should be established in Ukraine, modelled on the European Agency for Reconstruction that managed the Marshall Plan funds in Western Europe.
The Kremlin’s aggression, when unchecked, traditionally expands to ever new territories. As demonstrated by the experience of recent years, Moscow no longer limits itself to Crimea, Eastern Ukraine or Syria. It has recently made efforts to affect the election results in the United States and France. One may only speculate what will come next. The only appropriate response is the one formulated in a Long Telegram by George F. Kennan, one of the Marshal Plan’s ideologists, back in 1946: Russia’s aggression should be confronted with unalterable counter-force at every point and the Kremlin should not be allowed to win any strategic victories in new territories.
Today, this new territory is Ukraine. Ukraine is the land where Putin’s political appetites need to be curbed. Ukraine is the place where Putin’s political strategy needs to be aborted. And a Marshall Plan for Ukraine is needed for that. This is urgent, because only Putin will benefit from delay.
Is the West beginning to see this? There are some encouraging signs of that. In particular, they come from Europe itself. The largest European People’s Party (EPP) convened at a Congress in Malta recently and adopted a resolution in support of Ukraine, proposed by our delegation. The resolution also approved the Marshall Plan for Ukraine. All we have to do now is implement it. Such a statement from the EPP has led to a wave of enthusiasm and great expectations in Ukraine. Now it is a matter of honour for the EPP to make sure that the Marshall Plan for Ukraine becomes a reality. It is a matter of honour for the entire the Western community to prevent Putin from winning in Ukraine.
It’s good that EU and member states are starting to build a legal and financial infrastructure which will allow Marshall Plan for Ukraine to be implemented.
In September 2016 EU Commission announced that EU External Investment Plan should be implemented. EU Commission is announcing that such an External Investment Plan should have a large capacity of 88 billion euros till 2020. Half of that amount should be devoted to what Germany is calling “Marshall Plan with Africa”. Another half, according to EU External Investment Plan, should be devoted to the EU Neighbourhood. Ukraine should be one of the most important targets of this Investment Plan.
Two conditions need to be met for the Marshall Plan for Ukraine to become a reality. First, we need a clear understanding of the reasons for and the features of the Russia’s containment strategy. In the words of George F. Kennan, we should confront Russia with counter-force on every point, including Ukraine. Secondly, we need leadership in the West, comparable to the leadership summoned by Henry Truman and George Marshall in 1947. It is high time for the Western leaders to take up the challenge. G7 meeting this weekend is a good occasion to start real discussions on this very important issue.
Andrius Kubilius, former Prime Minister of Lithuania (1999-2000, 2008-2012), Leader of “Pro-Ukraine” group in Lithuanian Parliament